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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Creature Feature: Pakicetus.

Yeah, no "They Actually Eat That" today. That's for tomorrow, when everybody in America will be bloated on the disgustingly-fattening food served on Thanksgiving, including corn. You're welcome.

For now, please have something far more pleasant: Fossil Fighters's answer to Vaporeon:

Except...wait, this is Fossil Fighters. Does this mean that Vaporeon were once real?

Ahaha, no. Paki up there is a Pakicetus, a prehistoric mammal that is considered a direct link between mesonychids (badass carnivorous ungulates). It was found in Pakistan (hence the name) with a number of other whale fossils and whale relatives, and lived around 50 million years ago in the Eocene. As one might expect, it was a piscivore. The creature was first identified as a whale relative by its earbones, in case you were wondering.

The first mysterious thing about this creature is where it was found. Pakistan, a place that is largely desert, has an abundance of ancient whale skeletons. The simple answer to why: Land shifts. The land evolved, and so did the life on it. Pakistan was once coastal. This led to a bunch of well-preserved whale skeletons as whales evolved from carnivorous ungulates. Neat.

Pakicetus is the first obvious transition animal between whales and land-bound mammals. The eyes are located on top of the skull, making it look almost like a crocodile. It lived on a coastal region in its time, leading to a theory that it may have first hunted in tide pools. There are a million different speculations about how Pakicetus lived - largely related to exactly how water-bound this whale of a mammal was.

There are debates over how aquatic Pakicetus was. The heavy bones suggest that it was at least partially-aquatic. The ears are more favored for hearing in air, but that didn't stop paleontologists from placing it near whales on the Tree of Life. Others have called it "no more aquatic than a tapir." Whatever the case, we're pretty sure it didn't have a tail fluke...although that would be awesome.

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